Restructured Global Value Chains and Reconfigured Urban Space: The Case of Apparel Value Chains in the Guro Industrial Complex, Seoul, Korea

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW1.2.01 (Tower One)
Gwanho Park, Hanyang University, Seoul, South Korea
Joonkoo Lee, Hanyang University, Seoul, South Korea
The structure of value chains constantly change in a city or region, and the change leaves an imprint on the area’s urban space in various ways. A newly introduced chain activity may require a new form of built environment while discarded functions can leave a long trace behind. As value chains are restructured, so is urban landscape. Despite a growing interest in the relationship of global value chains (GVCs) and local development, little has been explicitly studied on the spatial consequences of value chains and their transformation to the urban area housing them. This paper attempts to fill this gap in the literature by exploring the relationship between GVCs and urban space. Using the case of the evolving apparel value chains in the Guro Industrial Complex (GIC) in Seoul, it examines how the decline and offshore migration of manufacturing and the subsequent influx of commercial and retail functions affected urban structure in and around Korea’s first industrial park.

The GIC was established by the government in the southwest of Seoul in the 1960s, and the apparel industry, as one of the mainstays of the manufacturing cluster, played a significant role in export growth and employment. Local textile and garment producers gradually moved up the value chain, from simply assembly to full-package production and beyond. However, apparel producers began to move offshore from the early 1990s in the face of rising costs and labor unrest at home, significantly changing the value chain structure in the GIC. Manufacturing has been increasingly replaced by pre- and post-production, such as design, distribution and retail functions, and other urban service and high-tech industries have been relocated to the GIC since the 2000s, filling the vacated space and diversifying the composition of sectors and workers in the area. This value chain shift has transformed the built environment and urban structure and tissues inside and surrounding the GIC. Large-scale apparel factories with amenities like workers’ dormitories and crowded housings (e.g., “Jjok-bang”) were replaced by empty factory lots and ad-hoc retail outlets nearby factories. Furthermore, emerged was a new form of building called the “apartment-type factory,” which is a multi-storied building that houses numerous small office cells inside. Apparel firms often reused their factory lots to build new apartment factories with expectation of making up their declining profits in manufacturing with revenues from office leasing. This new type of building has also met emerging trends in apparel GVCs, such as the geographical fragmentation of value chain activities and the rise of small-batch production. And, old housings around the GIC, once populated by young female migrant apparel workers from rural area, are now occupied by ethnic Koreans from China employed in low-end service sectors.

This paper discusses the implications of the findings in terms of the relationship of GVCs and urban space, the role of government regulations in shaping urban landscape, and the importance of historical legacies in post-developmental urban development.